Thursday, March 17, 2011


I am now on Wordpress! There will be no blog posts from blogger from now on, but the existing posts will remain :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Auf Wiedersehen mein lieber Bruder, bis wir uns wiedersehen

If you were wondering what the heck did I write for my title, it's German for "goodbye my dear brother, until we meet again" - I hope it is.... Thank heavens for Google Translate!

On my previous blog post, I mentioned that my brother left for Germany to pursue his dream of becoming an automotive engineer. I didn't see tears around his eyes, but I know he was sad! 18 years of knowing him has taught me to know how and when his expressions fool just about anyone, but not me. He is my first bestfriend in the world, my only brother in the world. I hope he enjoys his time there, and achieves his lifelong dream of working for Mercedes-Benz. Maybe he could personally make my own car someday, hopefully!

My parents and I sent him to the airport and see him depart this recent Saturday. His friends were there, there were a lot of hugs - I live around hug-craze people! Anyway, here are some pictures I took on the day.

A lot of people called to wish him luck! That's my dad behind him!

I took a shot of him with the background of
the neighbourhood before we left for the airport

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII - review!

serious business - Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VRII 


Firstly, I should remind you that I'm not going to focus on the technical sides. These are only my personal impressions and views. Things like chromatic aberrations won't be featured here, as I'm no fan of pixel-peeping (though I do sometimes to check the focusing) to search for a flaw my lenses have. Again I remind you that these are all my opinions and may differ from other reviews or your own thoughts.

This particular lens belongs to my brother. Since he's leaving for Germany to further his studies, I had to scramble and make this review possible! Another lens of his, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D will also be reviewed soon!

The Story Behind the Purchase + First Impressions

It was back in 2009, when my brother got this lens. It was a present from my parents for his achievements in his SPM (O-level equivalent). Although they bought him this a few months before his results were out, he did magnificently for that exam (10A's out of 10 subjects - damn how am I going to beat that?!). At the time, my parents did the same for me, they bought me the 85mm f/1.4 which I have sold after 6 months of use. But we're not talking about the cream machine, we're talking about the versatile baby-crier! - read on to understand what I mean by that.

Our first impression of the lens were incredible. We were blown away by the size, I can tell you that! My brother had the Nikon 18-200mm at the time, and it is 2 times smaller than the 70-200mm, possibly 3 times smaller. We didn't find the weight appealing too! It is heavy.  If you suffer from tennis elbow like I do, I suggest staying away from this lens as much as possible! The other significant thing was the image quality wide-open. When you buy a lens of this caliber, you expect unrivaled performance without any compromises and I can safely say that you wouldn't be disappointed here. 

On another note where it isn't photography-related, this lens is scary to look at! My brother and I have pointed this lens to several kiddies and most of them ended up crying and running over to their parents after staring at this big boy! So if you were planning on scaring some neighbourhood troublemakers, this would fit the bill nicely - that is if you wouldn't mind spending so much on a lens and not use it for your photography!

focusing switches ; zoom ring ; distance scale ; focusing ring ;
all placed exactly where you expect them to be

You expect the best when you buy a premium lens like this one. This gigantic beast delivers on that front. It is very solid. You're going to have to slam the lens VERY hard to even dent it a bit. The lens is easy to hold ; the zoom ring is quite a distance away from the camera mount for easy access. And the lens' distance scale separates the zoom and focus rings. The zooming ring is perfectly smooth and you won't get stuck at any focal lengths (the new 55-300mm has this problem when you're going from 200mm to 300mm). Although being a lens capable of fast, and I mean REALLY fast autofocusing, you can manual-focus it with acceptable precision. It is not as enjoyable as say, my CZ 2/35, mainly because of the short focus-throw compared to the 35mm, so fine-tuning is harder to do on the 70-200mm. 


As I mentioned above, autofocus is very very fast! It is faster than other lenses me and my brother have owned. I can't stress how fast it is, but according to my simple judgement, the lens take 1-1.5 seconds to focus from the minimum focusing distance of 1.4m all the way to infinity. I could be wrong on the timing, but believe me, it is very quick. The only lens I can think of that can rival this lens on focusing speed is Nikon's own 24-70mm f/2.8, by the slightest of margins I'd say.  

Vibration Reduction

Nikon specified that the second generation of their Vibration Reduction system allows you to shoot 4 stops slower than normal as oppose to 3 stops in the first generation. I always have the VR on (except when I have the lens on a tripod) and I have shot at 1/15 seconds at 200mm without any obvious signs of camera shake. I only saw a slight blur when I viewed the images on the computer, and even then, the shots were very much usable. Trust Nikon on this, their VR is quite unbelievable.

dancers from Assunta's Prom Night 2010
The Event Planner

I have been lucky enough to have used this lens for a number of events in the last 2 years. And in my mind, it is the best lens to cover events. Deep down, I know the lens will serve fantastically well along with the 24-70mm f/2.8, giving you 24-200mm in two amazing zoom lenses. Sadly enough I don't have the financial backing to purchase the 24-70 nor would I need to get that lens. 

Moving on, as I was saying, this lens is perfect for shooting events. In sheer versatility alone, this lens could blow you away. You could shoot full body portraits at 70mm, and head-shots at 200mm with nothing to worry about. 

Portraits? Yes sir.

some ladies during Assunta's Prom Night, which I shot in December 2010

Many people buy this lens because of its sheer image quality and versatility, especially when they shoot portraits. Portrait-snappers often set their camera at apertures close to the maximum available, sometimes even wide-open to isolate their subjects and make them stand out from the background. Shooting at large apertures is definitely not a problem for this lens, and it shouldn't be.

a view of Kuala Lumpur!
Look far away

Another good use of this lens is landscapes. That is if you are shooting far far away from the subject. The clarity and detail is phenomenal if you are thinking of  shooting landscapes. Shooting at medium apertures (f/8.0 - f/11.0) allows you to maximize detail and sharpness in your shots. It's quite weird to shoot landscapes with a telezoom, but have a go at it and judge for yourself!

Smooth, circular bokeh

One of my favourite topics in photography, the bokeh a lens produces. This lens is up there with the best in this category (and every other category for that matter). Thanks to the 9 diaphragm blades, the bokeh is very smooth and make your subjects pop!

Other Alternatives

This is one of the best 70-200's out there, for sure. 

However, if you have invested in the Nikon system, there are a bunch of options for you to consider. A lot of folks are selling their used 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, the predecessor of the current lens. You can find some good prices on those. 

Another option is to go after third-party brands. Sigma just released their 70-200mm f/2.8, they have added an image stabilization system (Sigma calls it OS - Optical Stabilizer). I'm not sure on the price for that one, but at the time of release, I thought the list price was a bit too close to the equivalents from Nikon and Canon. 

Tamron also have something similar in their arsenal, but without any form of image stabilization. That might be a turn-off for some people, but for myself, I would consider it because of the smaller size and it is after all lighter than the other 70-200's in the market (as far as I know). The Tamron also focuses as close as 0.95 meters, which is good for close-ups, something I'm into. 

Is this for you?

If you shoot a lot of events, portraits, this lens is definitely for you. It is very versatile for events, I have shot events with only this lens alone! For portraits, it allows you to step back and give some space to your subjects. Sports and wedding photographers adore this lens because it is wonderful to use and compact (sort of). It is lighter than most telephotos, and light enough to be used handheld, in part due to the excellent VR technology. If you're planning on getting this lens, be sure to use it on bodies that will balance well with the lens. I have used this with my D60 and it was too front-heavy. I'd get neck-pains every time I put the camera strap on my neck, it was killing me. On the D700, it is really balanced, especially with the battery grip attached. The lowest you could go is probably a D90 (with the battery grip), or you could suffer from all sort of pains from carrying this lens.

Mystical powers - Nano Crystal Coating. use it to believe it.
If you think getting the shot is more important than preserving your upper limbs (for those like me who suffer from tennis elbow or similar injuries), I couldn't recommend this lens more highly! It is not as heavy as some other telephotos but it gets to you once you go past an hour or two of carrying this monster around. Having said that, I think it is the best lens ever in the range. Let's hope Nikon update this lens in 5 years time and include VRIII and make it lighter (dear God, please let it be lighter!) and I will be starving everyday to purchase it. I can dream can't I?!

Friday, March 11, 2011

wait for it....

A couple of lens reviews coming up in a few days, come back soon! :)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A recipe for tasty satisfaction

As mentioned earlier, I took some photos of the food I have been eating a lot of since the turn of the year (February, actually!).

Cereal with bananas
Also on my flickr!

My dad suggested to me to put some bananas to go with my cereal, and it definitely made a better breakfast for me!

Salmon with veggies!
Also on my flickr!

After discovering how easy it is to make a sublime salmon, I don't think I'll ever need to ask someone to make my favourite fish for me ever again! It's just so easy. I love seasoning the salmon! It's just delightful to eat and it's healthier than chicken - double treat!

I know what you're thinking, why healthy food all of a sudden?! Haha well, I want to lose weight. I want to lose 5 kilograms by February 2012. To achieve that, I jog every alternative days, play football every evening (when the weather allows!) and I eat healthy, non-fattening food - well I try to! The portions may seem a lot, but at least its not junk-food, which I have survived on for a good few years before I start thinking of living this healthy lifestyle! And really, I feel great everyday! You're always sleepy after eating junk-food, aren't I right? Maybe it's time you follow me and develop a healthier lifestyle, it wouldn't kill you - not faster anyway! :)

Some food to drool over, soon!

A special cereal I have for breakfast (might not be special to you though...) and my awesome, awesome Salmon dish in photos, coming up as soon as after lunchtime! :D

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I'm always thinking ahead!

A few weeks ago I posted about my plans for my next purchases. Forget all that (not completely). I have my eye on a new, more exciting lens in the form of the Carl Zeiss 2/100! Raymond has made his review of this particular lens after Carl Zeiss loaned the lens to him (such a lucky guy!). Again, he amazed me with his photos!

As much as I want the Makro-Planar 2/100, do I need it? Most people buy this lens for portraits and macro work. I have the Nikon 85mm for portraits, and I don't really do macro (but I would like to explore this part of photography in the near future). What does the Makro-Planar can do that my 85 can't? Focus closer. My CZ 2/35 focuses close too, down to 0.3 meters. And I really enjoy going up close to subjects. The 2/100 focuses as near as 0.44 meters. The 85mm has a minimum focusing distance of 0.85 meters. So, not only is the 2/100 longer than the 85mm, it could also focus closer, therefore able to make subjects look bigger in photos. The 2/100 is not really a macro lens because it has a maximum magnification of 'only' 1:2, but that's close enough for me. And if I'm going to be shooting macros, what better lens is there besides the 2/100? Anyway, I shall not get too ahead of myself. The next purchase probably won't happen until at least the middle of the year, hopefully I'll have more money by then!

When you think you know it all....

....think again!

I have recently concluded that I don't know my 85mm well enough. So I made a bold decision to explore my neighbourhood with that particular lens....when the sun was up high and blinding me with its explosive light, in the middle of the day! My mom was surprised too, but nobody was as surprised as I was!

When the Carl Zeiss 2/35 arrived in November last year, it was easy to fall in love with it. Because it was so precise, down to every last detail. The colours are surreal, the build is magnificent, the contrast is right on the money. The 85 on the other hand, is a shy little newcomer. While the colours are terrific, the focal length is so different than what I'm used to. Therefore, I realized that I don't know this lens well enough to create the results that I wanted. It was time to get to know this baby, and nourish it till it blossoms. I went out yesterday and snap as much as I could. I was happy with what I was getting!

Enjoy the photos :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The new addition to the camera bag

The new kid on the block
Originally uploaded by Ahmad Ihsan
Do first impressions matter that much? In most cases, without a doubt! My first impression of my new lens, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8D was positive, mostly. It didn't have the superb build quality of my CZ 2/35, not its manual-focusing feel, nor does it have a world-renown lens element inside it like the T* coatings in the CZ 2/35. But, it does have a metal lens hood, which to me is better than the one that came with the Zeiss. At first I thought it was silly to have a plastic lens with a metal lens hood. It is, but what if the lens is made of metal too? No thank you! $$$$

Another thing I quickly noticed (while I was at the shop trying the lens itself in fact) was that there is no damping whatsoever when it comes to focusing! I know this even before I went to the store, but of course, after comparing it to my CZ 2/35, I wasn't pleased. But that's something I have to live with. After all, I am thinking of shooting portraits with this lens, and fast auto-focus is the way to go for me when it comes to portraits, and boy does this lens deliver on that front! Really fast focusing indeed. Might not be as fast as the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, but think about the price difference between the two.

The thing I found most depressing was that this lens is really really boring to photograph!! When I was working on my review of the CZ 2/35, I had fun taking photos of it. The markings on the lens is beautifully engraved and had that 'wow' factor. It also forced me to be more creative and to work more with natural light. In the end, I captured a lot of photos of it in a matter of minutes. But that wasn't the case with the 85 f/1.8. It was just too boring and I didn't enjoy taking pictures of it. It was like I had to pay someone to take pictures of the lens, and I wasn't excited about it one bit. The end product? I captured a lowly 5 photos of it.

However, that is not why I bought the lens. So, I have to slowly love this lens and make full use of it. The CZ 2/35 was easy to adore, it was very inviting and carried the whole package. The Nikon 85mm f/1.8D, not so much. It plays hard to get, and carries with it a lot of surprises. We'll see how the relationship develops!

Some updates!

After some hard thinking, I decided to deactivate my Twitter account. I had enough of seeing younger blokes complain about their school, friends and family. Seriously, what a disgrace to see all that! I also thought I wouldn't be using it much anyway, knowing that I'm heading off to college in the next couple of months and things will get busier around me. Anyhow, I will make another account if there's a need for it.

Next, the new purchase, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8. I went for it and bought this lens for my portrait needs, and in that aspect, it thrives. Really nice bokeh and softness. What I have to get use to is knowing that generally all (or most) 85mm's share a common behaviour, referred to as 'spherical aberration'. Of course, this lens could be an exception of this behaviour, and may suffer from focusing issues instead. I'll test it with my tripod and see if that is true.

As for next purchases, I'm undecided between a telephoto zoom or a wide-angle prime. The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 or the Voigtlander 20mm f/3.5. Both are cheap compared to the other models in their respective categories but are very capable and surpasses most of their rivals in terms of image quality and handling. In the Tamron's case, its optically excellent, but suffers from poor autofocusing speed. The Voigtlander is made by Cosina, the same company that produces Carl Zeiss lenses, so optically and mechanically they are excellent. I'm not sure which lens will I go for first, but I'll definitely add them both to my camera bag. And I'll finish it off with the Zeiss 1.4/50, and stay quiet for a few years, promise. - that is if no other lenses attract my attention with amazing quality and low prices!

If you have any advice on how I can use my new 85mm with minimal fuss, please drop a comment down below!

and Happy Valentines day for those who are celebrating!